Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The TF (trade for) Photo Shoot Culture

There are several factors that have attributed to the abundance of trade for* (TF) photo shoots. One is technology; there are more advanced digital cameras in the market than there are people who truly know how to use them. In essence, everyone with a camera thinks they are a photographer. The other factor is the economy. As prices for cameras get cheaper so have we seen an increase in the amount of “Internet models.” Furthermore, with so many people still out of work, the derived conclusion seems to be, “hey, I can model. I don’t need any training, money, or transportation. Just show up and be pretty because everyone thinks I’m cute.” Everyone that wants to be a model has an online profile essentially demanding to be paid for their services. The same holds true for many alleged photographers. They’ve been taking pictures for months and sometimes years for free and now they want to be paid. In the end, what are we left with? We’re left with a culture of under qualified individuals on both sides and no one is getting paid. Consequently, the TF culture is born. 

If you're not aspiring to be a model then this need not apply to you. The TF phenomenal was one born out of desperation. The TF* acronym in short stands for “trade for time, trade for print, or trade for CD” or some other consideration. You will often see TFT, TFP or TFCD respectively. I’ve been offered some crazy things over the last couple of years from people who could not pay or refuse to pay for great photographic services. I guess they didn't see the value in it. Yet, it didn't stop them from offering TVs, rugs, pieces of art, or whatever they had. Why would they assume I want that stuff? I can't offer the electric company a TV or a rug as payment on my monthly bill. 

What is a TF? Succinctly put, if you're seeking a TF* photo shoot, you are bartering a product or service to a photographer without the exchange of money. The original goal of the TF* was that the new photographer and the new model would build their respective portfolios with marketable images without the need of money changing hands. But this may not be the only arrangement. Sometimes they simply come together for the purpose of an original work they each can use to promote their business and services. This is a "creative collaboration" for the purposes of business and not necessarily the exact same thing as a TF* though they have similar goals. It expands to include makeup artists, set designers, salons and spas, fashion designers, muralist, hair stylists, etc. Anyone who can play apart in the creative process can win if everyone chips in equitably. Everyone in the chain gets credit and the promotional benefits can be enormous. 

On the surface, it seems like a fantastic bargain. However, what can happen is a large amount of mediocre work can be  turned out because neither party is really aiding the objectives of the other. If they are all equally matched, can there be any  benefit? If the photographer is more advanced than the model is he or she giving them the quality he or she needs for a portfolio? If the model is far more talented than what that photographer can capture then what does the model gain? In retrospect, one should seek to work with someone more advanced than themselves to improve their skills, marketability and networking. Carefully executed everyone can gain some benefit from working together.  

Bartering is the oldest form of getting what you need. You give something to get something without using money. But everything has value. The challenge is establishing an agreeable value between what someone has to offer and what you have to give. But in the digital age there is another variable that has crept into the equation, and that is a misconception as one’s own perceived value. Websites were once only available to people who could afford a programmer to build them. Now everyone can download a free template. Ironically, they look free too. They're cheap, basic and you're bound to see the same layout somewhere else. Furthermore, building an online identity took thousands of dollars years ago; now Facebook and MySpace along with others can help you throw together an online "often too personal" profile in minutes. As a result, there is a deterioration of perceptive value and the misuse of digital assets which effects the value of products and services. If they are cheaper and more accessible, the perception is that they are of lesser value. Yet, this misconception goes the other direction as well. You believe that the very existence of your online profile or identity puts you ahead somehow; that you are on a level playing field with more established, more talented and seasoned online talent. It doesn't. You still have to deliver content that people want to see, are excited to see and more so, are willing to pay for. 

With the onslaught of camera bodies in everyone’s hands and the increasing popularity of modeling sites that have distorted what being a model really entails, you get an old fashion stand off. Photographers are trying to get paid for what they do and new models are wanting to get paid for what they do. Unfortunately, neither one understands their market and what exactly they are trying to achieve. Furthermore, they both have distorted perceptions of their own value. New models with no experience are dictating what they will and will not do contrary to industry norms while new photographers are giving away the store without so much as a clue on how to use their camera much less the cost of doing business. Most of these people are hobbyists and don’t know it yet. I can tell you from personal experience that the photography business is not a cheap one. But unlike many photographers, I have done this long enough to know my worth and what things cost me. When I consider insurance, licenses, image hosting fees, image processing, image optimization, advertising, promotions, rentals, permitting, website maintenance, travel and personal insurance; I know that before I even pick up my camera a very basic two hour shoot will cost me several hundred dollars or more whether I am paid or not. I base that on how many jobs I expect to get in a year, not to mention my equipment cost and wear, time to edit and process, utilities and the aforementioned factors. So you will forgive me if I am very very discriminating about who I am willing to barter with and why I often choose not to barter at all before considering what an individual is bringing to the table. 

Talent and creativity is a difficult thing to grade and price for some people. Unlike some creative professions, working photographers have real fixed cost that must be taken into consideration. If they say otherwise, they aren't photographers. They're hobbyists or wannabes. So when a startup model list on his or her profile -  I will not do this, I will not do that, I need all expenses paid, I need a makeup artist on set, I’m allergic to peanuts, I require an escort, etc. etc. I’m immediately thinking Wow, her portfolio must be absolutely incredible to make all these demands. Guess what happens? You guessed right, it is more often than not a major let down. Why? Their images tell the story. They are often mediocre at best. Every single portfolio whether it be old or new of a person requesting a TF photo shoot that makes demands such as those mentioned has a poor portfolio. It has never failed. Read the profile and description first before you even look at the portfolio. True models know that you don’t bring your boyfriend or kids to an interview or job (on set) paid or not. Real models know that you don’t get signed to an agency by telling them everything you will not do first. True aspiring models know that even after being signed that they are responsible for their expenses and that includes on occasion even paying for certain photo shoots. Yeah, that’s right. If you’re still new to an agency you will pay for your own expenses and that sometimes include tests and often times even travel expenses. When you become a demand, only then will someone else foot the bills for you. But don’t take my word for it. Call an agency and find out for yourself what you’re responsible for. Stop being an “Internet Model” and get yourself informed. We tend to read only what we want to believe. Call and talk to a real person. 

Getting signed does not exclude you from having to pay for certain photo shoots. It is deducted directly from your account. Just look at your agency statement if you don’t believe me. Sure there will be some “test shoots” that will not cost you. But even test photographers that have being doing this for awhile start charging the agencies. Guess who gets that bill? Often times it is you, the model. So don’t tell me when you’re new and still look the same in every single head shot what you will and will not do and that you refuse to pay anything because someone told you that you were cute and tall. It’s actually kinda of silly when you think about it. Don't forget what TFs are about. They are about trading services of equitable value. Making silly demands upfront without so much as a clue about the specifics of what is required will only diminish your worth and mark you as arrogant. Photographers are a tight community. We talk and share information.

TFs are a wonderful thing in moderation. But at some point whether you are a model, a photographer, a business owner or executive who needs professional profile head shots, a wife or girlfriend, a boyfriend or husband that wants to spruce up your relationship with photos, know that free isn’t necessarily what it’s cracked up to be. You get what you pay for. Furthermore, you get what you barter for. 

There are a single handful of people that I would never charge for a photo shoot. They know who they are. Over time, we have ascertained each other’s worth and determined our mutual benefit. They know what I bring them and I know what they bring me and we are gleeful over that arrangement. Even so, I take a moment to revisit their creative and professional value to me from time to time, and make a determination whether or not throwing away hundreds of dollars with no profit whatsoever is good enough even for them. It's never personal. It's business. I’m sure they do the same when they determine if taking a couple hours out of their day is worth it. I hope they do the same. Every professional relationship doesn’t sustain itself forever. Like personal ones, it takes constant evaluation and compromise. 

This is business. If it were easy everyone would be successful at it. But everyone is not. Even seasoned professionals that know everything and started before the digital age, struggle to keep the wrinkles smooth. But I, just like them, love to work with people that are creative and open. I like working with models and retail clients that inspire me and push me to be a better photographer, marketer and graphic designer. While I am far from an expert, my increasing understanding is making me a better creative professional. My work has improved, my clients are happier and everyone gets what they want and need in the end.

This TF* culture that has emerged leaves something to be desired. I can only hope that the delusions of grandeur and grandstanding will subside when the digital excitement abates. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Does Paying for a Photo Make it Yours?

As it pertains to the ownership of intellectual property, copyright is one of the most difficult concepts for most people to understand.Technology has exacerbated these misconceptions as almost everything we want are moments, sometimes seconds away. Immediate gratification and tech has led to significant misinterpretations about what constitutes ownership of intellectual property and when it comes to copyright, the rules are a bit more complicated. 

You can read the details of copyright law for yourself at As it relates to this subject, copyright nearly 100% of the time belongs to the creator of that property. As it pertains to photographic works and design, it is the creator (filmmaker, photographer, designer) that holds exclusive ownership over that material. That means you cannot copy it, scan it, re-distribute it, license it, modify it, edit it, even so much as change the color of it in any media type without specific and uncontested proof of permission from the copyright holder (the creator).

Let me use an example to place intellectual property into perspective. Let us look at software. You’ve gone to the store and purchased your next scheduled upgrade of software; let’s assume it’s Windows 8. You’ve paid for it. You believe you own Windows 8. Actually you do not own anything. You have purchased a license agreement for personal use for your home computer. Microsoft owns Windows 8 and you are purchasing a CD/disc or download which grants you a limited license to install a copy of their software on your system. You cannot change it, edit it, copy it, redistribute it or do anything that changes the fundamental properties of that software or the manner it is distributed. It is not yours. You’re leasing it in a sense. If by chance you manage to copy it you have just violated copyright law and subject to the maximum penalty with such an offense simply because you made a copy of it onto another disc. 

Other intellectual property is not considerably dissimilar. Consider photographs. The holidays have arrived and you have found a professional photographer to take images of your entire family to make greeting cards. You’ve found the photographer, paid the booking fee if applicable and paid the fee he or she charges for such a session. You ordered a few prints for your wall and photo album and possibly purchased downloads to go on your social networking site like Facebook. Then another relative says they would like a copy of a specific image. You do not really want to bother the photographer and more so you do not want to spend the money by ordering one more print or download. So you place the image you have on your alleged high end scanner/printer at home and copy and print your own. You know what? You just violated several rules of copyright law and subject to fines and severe penalties. But you believed that you paid for it once why pay again. What you have failed to realize that payment alone does not transfer copyright ownership and more specifically, it does not grant you the right to re-distribute, copy, or modify intellectual property that belongs to someone else. 

Just like software, you cannot legally burn discs of operating system software and give it to your family or your friends without severe legal repercussions if and when you’re caught. Most creators give clients the option to purchase exclusive property ownership. However, such situations are rare and often expensive. The photographer has to consider any and all associated advertising potential, future sales, add on sales, promotional potential and creative ownership that property has and ever will have. Your $10,000 wedding images may easily be $25,000 if a photographer chooses to give up all ownership to that property. Unless he or she has written a specific statement that grants you copyright ownership of those images, then you do not and will not ever own them. Even death of photographer does not necessarily transfer ownership. It often goes to heirs, the business entity under which the property was created or their estate.  

Technology has created a few gray areas in copyright law due to online sharing and digitized content. Law like many things, is often up to interpretation by the end user or the person committing the infraction. But as far as the letter of the law, it is very clear when an infraction may or has occurred. If you purchased a print or photograph whether you paid for it or not, then you scanned it and put it on your Facebook profile; officially you broke the law by violating intellectual property rights. However, it will probably slide by if the photographer does not file suit against you. Most would not because they may want the exposure. More than likely they would not because they do not have the financial resources to combat such an infraction. But I have known a few to do so and the violator nearly always lost in court. What is often considered is the lost of revenue for current, future and all associated sales that image would have had if it remained under the intellectual property control of the creator. It can get very expensive for what you may think is a small infraction. As it pertains to law, ignorance does not equate to innocence.

There are very few situations where copyright may not always automatically fall to the creator. Such cases might be in a business environment when a photographer is an employee of a business entity and the entity itself assumes the right of the creator. Yet, even these cases are argumentative short of an agreement between the designer, photographer or filmmaker to the contrary.

It is best to know and protect your rights not only as the creator but also as the client or business. Seal the rights, uses, and privileges with an agreement outlining how, when, where and why intellectual property will and can be used.